Mineral Food

This week Autumn arrived where I live. The sky aged to shades of gray, a cold wind blew, cleansing nature of all the things it was ready to release…leaves, bark, branches, nests, skins, seeds… Then it rained. And rained, and rained, and rained. 

Whenever weather turns inclement, I crave soup. This week in the Farmer’s Market, I delighted in seeing turnips. My excitement in seeing these earth foods surprised the farmer and she commented that most people aren’t such big fans of turnips. I replied, “It’s all in how you cook it, and with what you cook it.”

I also purchased some onions but couldn’t find parsnips anywhere in the market. It took a few days to find them, but by the time the rain began, all the ingredients were in my kitchen and I set to work.

I began by turning on my Chris Botti station on Pandora, and making myself a cup of tea. This ritual calms my mind and opens my senses so that I can experience all the textures and flavors that the food has to offer me. My cooking always tastes better when I take the time to slow down and work with it in gratitude…connecting with everyone who has had a part in providing support for the growth of this food as well as bringing it to my kitchen.

As I bring the finished product to my lips, the pungent mineral odor of earth fills my mouth and nose. Tangy, slightly bitter, slightly sweet and creamy, the smooth, fluffy texture enhances the flavor as it continues to unfold on the tongue. I ladle a bowl-full, garnish the top with fresh cilantro, pour a glass of Summerland Pinot Gris 2008 and sit by the window. As kitty curls up in my lap, I watch the rain, Chris Botti still serenading me and I am bliss.

Swirly Nibs

One very unexpected, yet joyous, side effect of blogging is meeting other bloggers. I know. If someone were to have said that to me, I would have rolled my eyes and muttered, “Duh!” However, in defending myself from myself, I realized the interesting inner war I experienced around blogging. All sorts of internal messages and insecurities arose like Dementors whenever I even considered starting a blog, the two biggest ones being: “There are so many bloggers, why does the world need another one” and “What could I possibly have to say that would matter to another person.” I was so focused on me as the originator of “stuff” that I never even considered the possibility that I might also meet some pretty amazing people and learn from their “stuff.” It is this unexpected side effect that continues to add a significant amount of joy and gratitude to my life. 

This week, I stumbled upon a most incredible and beautiful soul and her blog. This woman knows how to manifest a life of joy, purpose, beauty and creativity. She’s living her dream and loving every moment of it. Her joy and passion shines through her work and as a result, she’s becoming quite successful. She’s a fabulous example of the idea that if you follow your passion and do what you love, everything else follows. Her name is Betsy Dunlap and she presently has two blogs: B.Dunlap, and BD for WeddingBee. The latter one, the source of this post’s photo, hasn’t been updated since 2009, but contains some stunning photographs of her work specifically done for weddings. The former one is her active site and shows her more recent work across a wide range of media and purposes. 

Apart from the inspiration she brings to me to live a life more deeply infused with beauty, passion and creativity, I love that she’s obsessed with typography and letters through the ancient art of calligraphy…and using letters in creative ways…varying the shapes and sizes and directions to create art and flow and evoke emotion simply by the formation of a letter. It’s as though, when I look at her letters, I learn a bit more about her and the way she sees the world, and my eyes are changed for the better. 

Thank you Betsy.

Luna’s Allure

I love this painting, don’t you? The first time I experienced it, the air turned sparkly and everything within and around me buzzed with electrical anticipation that something magical was about to happen. Then, the longer I stood there, standing on the crystal water, the more certain I became that Something indeed was about to happen…and spent the rest of my day with a song in my head and a skip in my step as I looked for this event to come to me.

Even now, after hundreds of viewings, I really can’t explain the effect of this work upon me. Is it the layers of clouds…peeling away and revealing ever more beauty and adventure with those two pinpricks of starry light? Is it the glassy mirror of the water inviting me to follow the path of light on yet another adventure? Is it the incredible selection and blend of colors: blues and purples and yellows and pinks and greens, so beautifully applied? Perhaps it is the water and the perfect reflection of the moon? Or is it the moon Herself? Is Luna truly the Mistress of Enchantment? The Key to the mysteries of night? Surely after so many years of existence we have tired of the endless stream of verses and songs and dedication to the Queen of the Night. And yet…I am captivated. Somehow, I know that if I could channel my inner Mary Poppins-ness and step into this painting, I would shimmer too; inspired to dance with the light and the Elemental with me.

As if this weren’t amazing enough, the manifester of this magic is Steve Richardson, surfer and professional fisherman. Almost ten years ago, he again tapped into his passion for painting which lead to him teaching painting to those diagnosed with Autism. His students’ work is equally impressive, demonstrating in him a sensitive, insightful and compassionate nature. Now that I think about it, those same qualities are what strike me most about this painting, leading me to wonder if the magic doesn’t lie within the subject…but rather in the creator. 

Precious Treasures

As mentioned in an earlier post, I grew up in a British Commonwealth country. I became accustomed to tea and biscuits, addicted to Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial, Double Devon Cream, Lemon Curd and Marmite, and stopped eating chocolate when I moved back to the U.S. because it didn’t taste like Cadbury’s or any of the European chocolate on which I’d trained my taste buds. At first, there was gnashing of teeth as there were no stores near me that carried any British or European specialty food products, but over time, thankfully, these stores have become more abundant. The favored one in my present wandering area is Ye Olde King’s Head Shoppe in Santa Monica.

A British friend introduced me to the shop, and I’ll never forget my first step through the door. It’s a shame John Cleese et al. weren’t my companions, for it was the classic sky-opening-cherubs-descending-choral-ahhhs-enlightenment moment. I instantly lowered my voice to hushed tones, as though walking through a High Gothic cathedral, and slowly, silently approached the shelves containing McVities, Weetabix, Scottish Shortbread, Gooseberry Jam, Mint Imperials and Marmite, reverently stroking each item with appropriate solemnity. The Cadbury aisle nearly sent me into a Jehovah-ecstasy moment. 

So, it’s quite understandable that after receiving my “Verboten Weizen!” commandment, my distress level heightened as I had just purchased these items of joy…and now I couldn’t use them. I am happy to inform you that fabulous British chef Phil Vickery’s cookbook is saving the day, and I’m blissfully nom-ing through home-made breads slathered with yummy goodness.

Ahhhhhhhh!

Understanding Art

Art collectors

I watched Herb & Dorothy this weekend. I began the film fully expecting and excited to learn how to collect art on a small budget. What I learned instead, was a deeper understanding on how to appreciate and communicate with art.

I am not well-educated when it comes to art. I have taken a few classes (which I loved), frequent art museums on occasion (which I enjoy), appreciate art that elicits a strong reaction in me (either for or against), but the finer aspects of art escape me. This is not due to a lack of interest; rather I prefer to just let the art speak to me rather than be buried in another’s, sometimes forced and insincere, opinions.

How surprising, then, to discover that neither Herb nor Dorothy were particularly educated in regards to art either…at least at first. And while they both eventually took classes, it is their process of collection that inspires me. They admit that they don’t often understand the art that they purchase. Upon seeing some of the pieces (to be frank, most of the pieces) that they purchased, that statement isn’t at all surprising to me. However, they spent the time getting to know the artists. Every day after work they’d visit an artist’s studio and talk about his/her art and how he/she was creating it. They were particularly interested in all of the bits leading up to and away from the piece(s) they eventually purchased. As time passed, they became quite good friends with the artists and would even set up regular phone dates to chat with them…even if the artists moved away from New York City, where they live.

This astonished me. Here are two people who began with absolutely no background in art or credentials to judge art, and yet they spent all their time trying to understand it; relate to it; communicate with it. I found this to be phenomenal and realized that there is very little in my life to which I devote such attention and dedication and I wondered what my life would be like if I were to spend even a fraction of that energy on something of interest…such as communicating.

Addendum: I wrote this several months ago, but for some reason I never posted it. I’m so excited that I’m starting to tap into this passion in my life and have actually put effort into the things I care about…including communication. Once again, intentions matter!

Gluten-Free Wizard

This truly is a perfect example, of many in my life, of how nothing is accidental, and everything has a perfect time and space. It’s also an example of the many reassurances I receive from Divine Mother that all will be well, I’m not alone, and that The Universe is conspiring for my benefit.

The day after my close call in succumbing to wheat, the small refrigerator my boss ordered for the main office was installed and plugged in. I also began unpacking a shipment my boss had purchased. This shipment had been in the main office for some time, but because my office was so full, I waited to open it until I had room. I had room the day after my near melt-down. In amongst other selections for young adults and children, was this cookbook.

I saw only the cake. I am not a cake fan, which she knows, but I held it up and burst out, “The way I’m feeling today, I’d eat this if it were in front of me and deal with the consequences later.” In stunned surprise, I heard another co-worker say, “But look! It’s gluten-free!” After a few seconds, the title registered with me and I exclaimed to my boss with astonishment, “You bought this?!” She laughed and replied, “I thought you might be interested.” All I could do was nod affirmatively as my throat choked up and my eyes watered excessively. “Oh!” she continued. “Feel free to bring any wheat free/gluten-free items to work and keep them in the refrigerator. That’s one of the reasons why I bought it.”

All I could say was: Thank. You.

I took this cookbook home that night and poured over the recipes and pictures (which are quite lovely). I found myself giggling with delight. It’s so cleverly and wittily laid out, I instantly fell-in-crush with the chef. Phil Vickery definitely deserves all the awards he’s been given…and probably more. Recipes include many of my favorite things, such as crepes, pie crust (I despise a heavy, unyielding crust), butterfly cakes, muffins, carrot cake, a flourless/dairy-free chocolate brownie torte, Simnel cake, parkin (sigh), Indian-style flatbreads (yes!), savory biscuits (NOT small lumps of questionable origin), focccia (BLESS HIM), and brioche. Alas, no scones. BUT. Given the tools he provides in the first pages, I now have options for experimentation. 

Again. To all involved: Thank. You.

Really?! No Wheat?!

Three weeks ago, my doctor informed me that it was official. Wheat and I just can’t be friends. I suggested therapy…she suggested divorce.

On the one hand, I was grateful and relieved to have some explanation for all the odd things my body was experiencing (from my mouth to my brain: You Suck!), but on the other hand, wheat is in EVERYTHING (my mouth: waaaaaa!). All I can think about is pie crust and baklava and panini and burritos and focaccia and scones and…and…and… !!!

The week following the diagnosis I began to notice how much better I felt, my energy began to increase, my clothes began to grow, and I slept with a restful ease that I didn’t know was possible. But, gosh! If only I didn’t struggle with temptation at work everyday!

My job provides meals…and fairly good ones as well as snacks throughout the day. Every morning there’s a lovely waffle bar, among other things, and some mornings there are freshly fried pieces of French Toast…all that gooey Cinnamon yumminess my mouth just aches to savor. Alas. I had to walk away. I don’t think I can quite explain to you the magnitude of will it takes to do that. It’s been three weeks now, and every day I’ve still managed to walk away. By some standards, I’m told I’ve created a new habit at this point, so this walking away bit should be easier. Not so. It’s still torturous.

One of the more challenging moments is at 10:00 am when I routinely take a break for tea and a nosh…which usually is a slice of cinnamon raisin toast spread with a lovely layer of Nutella. That crunchy butteriness interspersed with soft, melt-in-your-mouth sweetness, overlaid with creamy chocolate…heavenly, I assure you. Somewhere, I know, there’s a study proving that my memory of this experience is just as powerful as actually putting that explosion of texture and flavor in my mouth, but I think those people just have no idea how to live, for my mouth protests quite loudly that that study just isn’t quite accurate. My brain chemistry agrees…it’s just not as satisfying.

Yesterday I almost caved. I was so desperate for the bread that I sat, transfixed on this dilemma as to how I could justify or substitute or do whatever I could to satisfy this craving. The solution quite surprised me. Normally I’m not a huge fan of celery…too fiberous and many times limp (iyich!). But, five tender stalks did the trick! The crunch was perfect and it held just the right amount of Nutella and somehow, that wee snack satisfied my craving (and no, I wasn’t the messy one with the knife…although, it’s entirely possible that I could have been, given my state of things).

So yay for me and I’m doing The Happy Dance. But. That was just too close of a call. I seriously have to come up with another option in case that doesn’t cut it in the future. Off to find the Wizard of such things!

Spaahbulous!

and more

This week is my birthday week, which is a little more important than my birthday month, but not as important as the actual day. I firmly believe in celebrating for as long as possible and involving as many people as possible, for each person brings out varying characteristics in me…and there is a lot of food that really needs tasting.

One of the many things I have done so far this week is to visit Los Angeles. The longer I live in Southern California, the more I absolutely love it here…and Los Angeles in particular; both quite big surprises to me. But, I’ve found some places that really require multiple visits, so I included a couple of those this week. Spaahbulous and More (http://www.spanmore.com/) is one of those places.

From the outside, it’s fairly easy to miss as the front faces a small strip mall with a paid parking lot. Parking is challenging to find in Chinatown, so if you’re only willing to circle the block 2 times (like me), I recommend paying for the lot.

The waiting area is very clean and modern and decorated very simply, using Feng Suei principles. I’ve never waited long (1-2 minutes), and when called, I pass through a darkened door into a dark room. Although dark, the room isn’t completely blacked out…there are a few yellow, red and orange hidden bulbs and a few scattered candles. Linen drapes across the ceiling, there’s a wall fountain, soothing music, and the wall murals are in varying shades of olive-green and bamboo tan.

Because this is a reflexology experience and not a massage, there are a few differences. For starters, I try to take off everything that is unnecessary but still allows me to remain respectable, as I’m sharing the room with 7 other silent people. I’m then seated on a large and comfy ottoman and I put my bare feet in a large lined basket filled with hot water with an herbal brew. I honestly have never noticed a scent…even when my face is very close to it, so I have no idea what’s in it. Lisa (my bodyworker) stands behind me, places a pillow between my back and her body and starts at my head and scalp. She moves down to my neck and shoulders and then hands me the pillow so I can lean over while she works the full length of my back. This is my favorite part, for she really digs in and I notice that there are parts of my body that are super tender that I never knew existed. Even better, I feel internal organs responding to those tender spots and I am super excited that my bodyworker knows what she’s doing.

I then move to the large comfy chair and she works my shoulders, arms and hands, then my legs and feet. Again, she pinches and snaps and thumps and digs in to unknown pathways in my body and I find myself giggling through the temporary discomfort as I feel entire systems within my body twitching and responding to her touch. By the time she’s completed the 1.5 hours (for $25), I am completely undone. As she hands me tea, I tell her I want to hug her.

In the bathroom, I attempt to pull myself together and present some semblance of order and decorum, but I quickly realize that I just don’t care one whit. I’m so relaxed and fabulous that I’m ready to take on the world for nothing can touch me. In a word…I’m spaahbulous…and more.

Do Not Try This At Home…Without Inviting Me

Mammoth!

I love basil. I’ve never smoked anything…or ever been interested in smoking anything…except for basil. I haven’t actually smoked basil either…but it’s the only thing that gets me excited enough to consider it. For my birthday one year, a friend gave me a gorgeous bouquet of freshly clipped basil from her garden. I honestly cannot think of another birthday gift that has topped that one. I instantly buried my face in the pungent leaves and breathed so deeply that I got a little giddy. There’s just nothing like that sweet, tangy, green yumminess warmed by the sun, yet still crisp from the plant. Just thinking about it makes me tingly.

So. It is understandable then that when I saw these massive Mammoth Basil leaves at the Farmer’s Market this week I gasped. I couldn’t resist reaching into the bin and stroking the leaves reverently, all the while breathing deeply as though going into a trance. I’m sure my eyes were shiny and dreamy as I asked the stand owner what he wanted for the basil. Truth be told, it really didn’t matter, as that basil was coming home with me.

I instantly set out on a mission to find the rest of the ingredients necessary for my favorite Antipasto dish: Insalata Caprese Crostini. I found a lovely little bag of sun-dried tomato flavored crostini and I picked up two more vine-ripened, organic tomatoes. My joy was slightly diminished when I discovered that no stores in the area had even heard of Mozzarella di Bufala, which is the ideal pairing for this dish. I settled for bite-sized rounds of cow milk mozzarella and proceeded home, still breathing in the heavenly basil.

Once home, I quickly sliced the tomatoes, washed the basil and cut it into crostini sized pieces. I then grabbed a bottle of Balsamic vinegar, a sauce pan and a whisk. I poured a cup of Balsamic vinegar into the saucepan and turned on the stove to medium heat, whisking continuously until the vinegar turned sweet and syrupy. I drizzled organic, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil on the crostini, layered the basil and tomato and topped with the mozzarella. Then I drizzled more olive oil and the Balsamic vinegar reduction on top. This, arranged on a white glazed platter was breathtaking.

I know this is supposed to be an Antipasto dish, but for me, it’s the entire meal. The salty crunch of the bread was soon followed by the tangy crisp textures of the basil and tomato…the sour of the tomato bringing out the sweet of the basil. The creamy mozzarella blended the flavors and deepened them into a lingering taste fully heightened by the earthy, mineral taste of the vinegar. My apologies for not posting actual pictures, as my senses were too enraptured to even allow thoughts other than bliss.

Origin of Goth Eyes

Goth eyes

Isn’t this an amazing painting? You have everything from a wizened man to plump cherubs, red hair to black hair, beards, no beards, armor, no armor, pink and…the best thing of all…everyone has Goth eyes. This alone is the reason I added this photo to my personal collection. No, I didn’t purchase it…I saved it in my private museum in Art Project, powered by Google (http://www.googleartproject.com)

I came across this brilliant experience through a TED talk. I have recently taken up the practice of watching TED talks during my lunch hour at work. I usually watch two selections then I go for a walk outside. By the time my lunch hour is over, I am inspired, relaxed and rejuvenated and often times have something fabulous to share with the people around me. It’s a great mid-day pick-me-up.

The Art Project, powered by Google  is an amazing project born from the brain of Amit Sood. Now, I imagine that this wasn’t solely his idea, but he’s the one who presented it at TED (I tried to put the link here, but it was too long), so I think it’s probably ok to put his name to the project.

The first thing Mr. Sood did, was to use Google Earth technology to give someone the experience of being in an art museum that one may not ever be able to visit in this lifetime. This alone is brilliant, in my mind, for often the architecture of the container for the art is as lovely as the art that is held inside (One such exception is the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. The new building is hideous and the experience inside is cold and sterile. I much prefer the experience at the Palace of the Legion of Honor http://legionofhonor.famsf.org/).

As one navigates through the galleries, one can select a painting to view in finer detail. And when I say finer detail, I mean just that. Mr. Sood uses giga-pixel technology when photographing the paintings. This allows the viewer to zoom into a painting to such a degree that one can almost measure the width of the cracks in the paint. I have never before been able to explore the hidden secrets of a painting in such wonderous detail. This is what allowed me to verify that the above painting (Altarpiece of Santa Maria Nuova–Madonna dello Spedalingo, 1518, Rosso Fiorentino, 1494-1540) does indeed intend for the subjects to have Goth eyes.

Whereupon, I promptly selected the painting to be added to my collection of paintings within the art project itself. I simply log in to my Google account and I can now create a museum of paintings from within the collections of the many museums available. If I were an art history teacher, I’d be ecstatic at this development, including the ability to categorically tag all my selections, and…quite possibly present a case for the origination of Goth eyes.

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